Aren Cohen, MBA, MAPP '07 is a learning specialist working with academically, motivationally and emotionally challenged students in the leading private schools in New York City. As shown in her website and blog, Strengths for Students, Aren uses the tenets of positive psychology to teach her students to use their strengths of character to change educational challenges into educational triumphs. Full bio. Aren's articles are here.
Too Many Internal Voices?
This week, one of my favorite television programs ended. I am a little bit embarrassed that as a positive psychologist, I took real pleasure in watching The United States of Tara, a show about a woman with dissociative identity disorder (DID), more commonly known as multiple personality disorder. How could I find a show about mental illness so compelling? Isn’t there something contradictory for a positive psychologist to enjoy a television show that examines (and maybe even romanticizes) a type of mental illness? Maybe. But one of the things I loved about Toni Collette’s Emmy-award winning portrait of Tara was her effectiveness at creating the many different voices and personalities of Tara’s various identities. Each of them provided a different inner monologue for Tara, and each one was a protective coping mechanism that allowed her (and her very damaged self) to operate (albeit not very well) in the real world. But what struck me the most was this very fact. To survive, this character had to have many different versions of her inner voice.
Sometimes One is More than Enough
Thankfully, the majority of us have only one inner monologue that narrates our world. We use language in two ways. Language is a tool for outward expression—how we communicate with others— but it is also the tool by which we understand and explain to ourselves the world around us. We have our own personal conversation translating events and circumstances constantly. I suppose it could be argued that this inner monologue is “wordless,” but it does seem to take on the language that we use in communicating with others. Guy Deutscher points this in his August 29, 2010 New York Times Magazine article:
“If different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.”
Also, it is important to note that the voice inside us tends to be “thinking” (ie. supposedly rational or logical) rather than “feeling.” All of us have this constant monologue of chatter running in our head. How do our perspectives and languages habituate our inner monologue? Does the voice choose a fixed mindset (“You are the way you are, and you can’t really change it.) or a growth mindset (“You can learn to be and do many things with enough effort.”) à la Dr. Carol Dweck? Do we tell ourselves, “I might fail if I do that?” or do we say, “Heck, that could be a great adventure.” The inner voice reminds us of what we have to do and it evaluates how we perform. Often, our own self-talk is more judgmental than the appraisals of others. How often have we heard someone admit (or even admitted to ourselves), “I am my own toughest critic?”Our inner monologues shape our psychology as much as, if not more than, our outward language. Aaron T. Beck, the “father” of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), understood this. Freudian theory suggested that a patient needed to revisit and discuss trauma, but it was Beck who understood that creating new behaviors to combat thoughts, feelings, and behaviors caused by trauma was the only way to help an analysand improve and recover. New behaviors, however, would only occur if the person’s inner discourse could change. In Positive Psychology, Drs. Martin Seligman and Karen Reivich have popularized the ABCDE talking model (Adversity, Belief, Consequences, Disputation and Energization) to structure a process by which a person could work at retraining the path his inner monologue takes to combat negative beliefs. For an example of ABCDE in action, see Nick Hall’s earlier PPND article, Is Feeling Better as Easy as ABC?
Steadying the Inner Monologue
We all have this inner monologue, and sometimes it is great and sometimes it is lousy. How best can we train our inner voices to be more loving, more supportive, more friendly, more forgiving, and more productive? Yes, talking cures like CBT and the ABCDE method have proven effective, but perhaps there are other ways that could also work. Many people turn to meditation to try to quiet, steady, or control their inner monologues.Like meditation, a good deal of research exists on the importance of physical exercise on mental health. Sports psychologists, perhaps more than any other type of mental health professionals, help their patients modulate the inner monologue to achieve success and overcome setbacks. So, looking beyond the so-called “talking cures,” what happens when you pair the inner monologue with physical activity??
For over a year, I have wanted to write about my experience with a practice called Inten-Sati. I was introduced to Inten-Sati by two of other PPND authors, Emiliya Zhivotovskaya and Louis Alloro. At first glance, Inten-Sati is an exercise class like any other. However, once you experience its unique philosophy and methodology, you come to realize it is, in fact, quite an effective positive psychology intervention. Unlike sitting in a psychologist’s office working methodically through the steps of CBT or ABCDE, personally I have found that Inten-Sati is a more physical and successful process for changing my frame of mind from one of doubt and criticism to one of health and confidence.
Inten-Sati was created by a woman named Patricia Moreno, a fitness guru. I would describe Patricia more as a spiritualist than psychologist. While I have heard her reference self-help authors such as Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, (and Gandhi who said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”), I have not asked her if she is familiar with the works of Martin Seligman, Chris Peterson, or Ed Diener. I do know that every time I leave her class, my outlook has changed, and I am more apt to be productive and believe in my abilities to accomplish whatever I need to do.
Mind you, Inten-Sati is not a cult of worship around a group of charismatic leaders, although Patricia and other Inten-Sati instructors are lovely. Rather, because Inten-Sati is a combination of aerobics, yoga, and martial arts paired with positive affirmations, it becomes an hour where you move your body and your mind. Patricia has written about the practice in her book The inten-Sati Method: 7 Principles to Thinner Peace. Each movement represents a state of being, such as enthusiasm, faith, willpower, and acceptance. When these exercises are put together in combinations, they are paired with catchy affirmations to assert while performing the exercise series. Imagine being in a packed room of 30+ sweaty and energetic people moving to the beat and asserting, “I challenge myself to reach for something better. Yes! I will. It is my pleasure.” I assure you it impossible to leave feeling grumpy.Other Ways to Change the Voice
What the voice inside of us says to us informs everything we do—how we reach for our goals, how we believe in ourselves, how we operate in the world. In no way do I mean to imply that a single exercise class is the only means by which a person can identify or change that voice.
However, there is undoubtedly something compelling about combining physical action with approving proclamations that seems to have a lasting impact on the angel or devil sitting on your shoulder. I suggest to fellow positive psychologists to keep investigating theses type of active interventions, ones that combine exercise with favorable personal manifestos, as a way to help shift the dialogue with the inner voice, actively combating any defeating self-talk it might want do. In my opinion, it is a very effective method to create an ongoing and essential conversation to keep the inner monologue hopeful, buoyant, and confident.
Too many voices (Memory of a tree) courtesy of mugley
Dr. Aaron Beck from A Profile of Aaron Beck
Yoga courtesy of Dave Whelan
Martial arts courtesy of parhessiastes
Listening to the voice courtesy of Beverly and Pack